The Seven Stages of Breakup
How long will it take to get over my breakup? When will the pain be over?
There is NO neat little formula where you enter the time you were together and the intensity of your relationship or marriage to find out how long to recover. Healing a heartbreak does take time; sometimes weeks, sometimes months. The good news is that you WILL recover, heal and get over your ex.
The following guide will help you get your bearings on the road to healing, happiness and love. This model is loosely based on The Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief. Just remember, even Dr. Ross said that she had never meant for the stages of grief to “help tuck messy emotions into neat packages“. Yes, breakup can be a messy business. Everybody is different so please interpret each stage loosely because there will be variations. You might skip a stage, or slide back on occasion. Use the Guide as a general road map of what to expect during your divorce or your breakup.
Remember, YOU ARE NORMAL. What you feel is absolutely normal. Don’t expect your friends and family — especially the “happily” hitched ones to really get how you feel. It can be a lonely journey. Outsiders do not understand this, and many feel that it should be time for you to “get over it” and rejoin the land of the living. Just knowing that your desire to be alone with your feelings of sadness at this time is normal will help you deal with outside pressures. You are acting normally, it’s just people around you often don’t understand and can’t fully relate to the turmoil you’re going through.
1. Shock and Denial
“This can’t be happening to me!” The reality hits hard but you don’t feel much at first, just a numb disbelief. The initial state of denial is a self-preservation mechanism that kicks in to save you from the sharp sting of the pain. The shock wave is like an airbag protecting your from the hard blow of the divorce or breakup news so you don’t collapse overwhelmed under the weight of the harsh reality. This may last several days to several weeks.
2. Guilt and Pain
“What is happening to me??” The initial shock is replaced by excruciating pain and suffering. The biggest mistake is to try to avoid the feelings, get numbed by alcohol, pot, pills or denial because it will only prolong your suffering. No matter how difficult or unbearable it feels, experience it. Whether it’s guilt, sorrow, or anger, let it wash over you. This is the time when all those thoughts of what you should have done and/or said to avoid the breakup surface. Life at this stage feels scary and out control and you sometimes wonder how you’ll make it through another day.
“Why is this happening to me? It’s not fair!” You reach a turning point when you realize that something must change because you can’t go on like this. Rage and anger become the dominant feelings. It’s easy to lash out and blame yourself, your ex, and the whole world for your misery. As with guilt and pain, the easiest and quickest way to healing is by releasing the emotions, not bottling them up. You feel what you feel and it is OK. Find a healthy outlet and vent all the anger: punch a pillow, do a daily intense workout routine, write a private journal, seek help of a professional counselor or even a trusted friend.
4. Reflection and Loneliness
“I don’t care what’s happening.” This is the darkest hour before dawn — the quiet, sentimental time of loneliness, sadness and depression when nothing and nobody can cheer you up. It’s paradoxically often the time when your friends and your close family think now is the time to “get over it“, move on and be happy. You will likely be overtaken by a long period (sometimes weeks, sometimes even more) of reflection. Just remember, it is NORMAL to go through this stage. In spite of the well-meaning advice and encouragement you may get from people around you, you WILL feel sad and prefer solitude.
You will finally realize and experience the magnitude of the breakup and you will feel depressed and frightened by the future. Often you will get overwhelmed by memories of the lost love and you may feel emptiness and despair. Finding another partner, even just dating again feels impossible, scary and repulsive. This stage often takes the longest to go through.
5. The Turn
“Well, shit sometimes happens.” This is the first turn for the better and the first sign of relief. You slowly adjust to the role of being single again and little by little your life becomes more stable, calmer and more organized. The physical pain subsides and the dark cloud of depression lifts. This is often the time to look for breakup advice, tools and techniques to speed up the recovery.
6. Rebuilding and Hope
“Good things could happen to me.” You take practical day-to-day matters into your hands again. You realize that the divorce or the breakup is NOT the end of the world and that in fact, your ex may not have been THE ONE. Life without your ex becomes OK because you reconnect with your family and your close friends. You start laughing again as you develop new interests and discover new life adventures.This is THE PERFECT time to take that beer-brewing class, brush up on your French, learn to sail, visit Costa Rica, write a journal about your trip to Machu Picchu, take singing lessons, try stand-up comedy, take a project management course that may help you land that promotion…
This is the time when you feel (again) that life not only goes on, but it’s fun and definitely worth living.
7. Joy and Love
“Look what’s happening to me!” At this last stage you finally realize that you don’t have to forget the breakup or your ex. You simply have to forgive your ex (and yourself), let go of the bad memories while keeping the best, happiest memories as guide for your next relationship. Given the severity and turmoil you’ve been through happiness and love may not come instantly but eventually you will live, laugh and love to the fullest since through the process you were able to release all the emotional baggage of your past. Trust that good things ARE in fact coming YOUR WAY.